(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)
Some car modifiers put titanium megawoofers and plasma televisions in their trunks. Not Ryan O'Horo.
He installed a portable toilet.
O'Horo, 22, spent five weekends in his Dunedin driveway last year, with hammer and screwdriver, installing a customized personal computer, a Nintendo game system, a DVD player, and other gizmos. Stalks of blue and red wires carrying the power were tucked into the glove compartment of his black 2001 Chevy Malibu.
For practical reasons, O'Horo positioned the toilet in the trunk.
"He is a purist," said Bob Parks, author of Makers: All Kinds of People Making Amazing Things in Garages, Basements, and Backyards.
A true inventor, said Patrick O'Horo, his father. "I don't see him as making the next waffle iron advancement."
The work has earned Ryan O'Horo a place in celebrity geekdom: PC Magazine commissioned him to design another car PC for an upcoming issue.
And O'Horo, a former information technology manager for Hydro Spa in Clearwater, has recently been featured in the book Makers, profiled alongside the guy who invented an alarm clock that also cooks bacon.
O'Horo says his project started like many other do-it-yourself creations:
"The result of boredom and sitting around the house and getting an interesting idea and saying, "This is how I will spend the next couple days,' " O'Horo said from Queens, N.Y., where he now lives.
First came installation of the motherboard in the Malibu's dash. Crouched on his passenger seat, O'Horo integrated a PC that powers on and off with the ignition.
Soon there was a 7-inch touch screen near the CD player, eliminating the need for a mouse and keyboard to use the computer.
Then he installed a retro Nintendo game system with a specially designed wireless controller, and the sounds of Super Mario Bros. bumping from the car speakers.
After more labor, creativity and weekend hours, O'Horo had a global positioning system, XM satellite radio, and the ability to watch DVDs on the touch screen. All told, the additions cost about $2,000.
What really wowed his friends?
"You'd never know I had a toilet," said O'Horo.
It's a Coleman chemical toilet: cream-colored, compact and intended for camping and fishing trips. It also was, O'Horo said, the obvious solution for a freelance photographer - such as himself - who might be on location for eight hours at a time.
Last spring, O'Horo was taking portraits of YMCA sports teams around Tampa Bay. Sometimes these assignments would take him to "fields in the middle of nowhere," which posed a problem when nature called.
"I had to keep an eye on my equipment, so I couldn't go off and find the nearest McDonald's," O'Horo recounted. How convenient would it be if . . . hmmm?
In May, he accomplished what few people have done, or would admit to doing. He secured the trunk toilet to a piece of plywood that is hidden beneath the trunk carpet. For privacy, O'Horo fashioned a curtain from a black bedsheet that he attached around the trunk lid, using heavy-duty fabric snaps.
Very comfortable, O'Horo said.
Parks, the author of the Makers book, said it wasn't hard finding O'Horo, and 90 others around the world. "A lot of makers and inventors are really proud of their barbecue-powered pool heater, or whatever it is," Parks said.
At first Parks called friends, hoping someone had "a weird Uncle Harry who makes inventions," who would then lead him to the others. Park also Googled terms such as coin shrinking.
Eventually he struck gold: Ryan O'Horo's Web site, www.AyDiosMio.net. (Translation: Oh, my God! dot net.) There was the car PC, the Nintendo, the toilet.
Park said the Dunedin native is a Renaissance man, or at least some kind of tech whiz.
"Oh, jeez, yes, since the time he could stand up," agreed Patrick O'Horo.
His only son wasn't the athletic type, said O'Horo, 53. "I tried to get him to play some T-ball, and he was polite enough to let me take him to the T-ball field and practice."
But get Ryan near a computer, and the child would attempt to tap on the keyboard. When he picked the hefty hardcover How Things Work during a fifth-grade elementary book fair, Ryan was so curious about the ways of physics and technology that he read the book "day after day for years, until it had to be replaced," his father said.
At age 15, Ryan started working as a consultant for Environmental Lighting Concepts, the Tampa company where his father is an information technology operations manager. While the elder O'Horo was first resistant to the idea, he said management couldn't find anyone else technically capable of certain computer projects.
For Ryan, that also meant having few friends who really understood his interests.
"There wasn't a mainstream nerd network for him" in the county, said Patrick O'Horo. "It must be tough to function at his level of computing and not have someone to share it with."
At Dunedin High School, Ryan O'Horo was the kind of student that teachers hated to love. He might have gotten an F in class work and participation, but O'Horo said he aced the tests and graduated with little more than a C-average in 2002.
Now he lives in New York, doing freelance work for a Web site named Model Mayhem. He takes photos of models. On the side, he has done security analysis on Wall Street.
And the Malibu? His 19-year-old sister, Kathleen, is driving it around Dunedin, sans accessories. Ryan stripped out the computer, toilet and other touches before he left.
Life without the rolling bachelor pad has been amazingly productive.
"All my attention is turned inward," said O'Horo. "I get the craziest ideas commuting in Manhattan" - visions of prototypes, things that will yield patents. He tries finding scratch paper on the subway, anything to write on.
But every so often, his arms get covered in ink.
Vanessa de la Torre can be reached at 445-4167 or email@example.com.